I recently returned from a four-day, three-night backpacking trip as part of the Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-Years (WOOLF), one of the six options for orientation programs for incoming first-year students at Williams.
I had previously vowed to never again go on a backpacking trip. I love hiking but am not big on not having toilets or showers. I decided to give it another chance because last time, even though it was physically challenging, it was rewarding to push myself out of my comfort zone. Every upperclassman I talked to who participated in WOOLF also loved it and gave me the confidence to sign up.
I went in not knowing what to expect. I knew no one from my group of 10 and neither of my 2 sophomore leaders.
I also went into WOOLF feeling sad and stressed due to family issues and feeling guilty that I could not be present for my family during difficult circumstances. I wanted this trip to be a chance to forget things I have no control over as well as give me a renewed sense of courage and determination.
Day 1: The trail was entirely uphill and I ran out of breath often. We were making progress in hiking Mount Greylock, the highest point in the state of Massachusetts. Every time I stopped for a drink of water I felt self-conscious and thought I was slowing the entire group down. Not expecting our hike to be so steep, I questioned why I signed up for WOOLF. We arrived at our shelter and I took a long nap. I realized how funny the members of my group were. We bonded over gorp (good old raisins and peanuts or more commonly referred to as trail mix) and I earned the title “gorp picker” because I ate everything but the raisins. Members of my group exchanged jokes and stories. The day flew by in retrospect.
Day 2: The alarms go off at 3am and I once again question what I am doing. We woke up early to climb up the rest of Mount Greylock before the sun rose. We packed and left our site at around 4am. Again, the trail was entirely uphill and at some point, I completely ran out of breath. I felt weak and frustrated and I broke down in tears when I felt I couldn’t keep going. The hike was physically challenging and at the same time I had been holding in a lot of the stresses that I brought along with me on the trip. I pulled myself together with the support of my group and with the knowledge that something awaited me at the top of Mount Greylock.
I felt extremely relieved and proud of myself when we finally reached the top. We made it just before the sun rose. It was foggy, but the color change of the sky looked incredible. The outline of the sun slowly emerged into a perfect, bright circle engulfed in a white sky. It was beautiful. I took a lot of time to think and reflect on not just my journey to the top of the mountain, but my journey to Williams. I realized that I am capable of doing great things when I stay focused and determined.
After a long nap at the top of the mountain, we hiked to our new campsite and took another nap. That night, we had a campfire and s’mores and told stories. I went to sleep feeling very proud of myself.
Day 3: We hiked seven miles to get to and from a waterfall. I took the lead on the hike there and back. This terrain was also very uphill and rocky, so it was difficult. Setting the pace for the group was empowering after previously struggling. I felt honored to hear my leaders tell me afterward that I had cruised through the trail.
We started running out of food because we were promised a giant tub of ice cream if our group ate all the food we came with throughout the course of the trip. We were forced to seek an extra box of couscous and an extra bag of gorp from another group. We hiked to their location and enjoyed the beautiful view of Stony Ledge, where Williams students go each year for Mountain Day, a Friday in October in which classes are cancelled and Williams students come together in the outdoors. Before leaving, I said a quick prayer of gratitude as I overlooked the valley. I don’t think I would have made it without having faith that God had good things in store for me and provided me with the strength to keep going when I thought I couldn’t.
At night, we wrote letters to ourselves that we will get when we are seniors. I wrote about my journey to the top of the mountain and how it meant so much to me to see I could overcome difficulties I am presented with.
Day 4: I took the lead once again and we hiked to the site where the bus picked us up. We made it with plenty of time to spare. When we returned, I took the best shower I have ever had in my life. After a phone call with my mom, I was reminded of my separation from home. I forced myself to stay focused and think about positive outcomes that will await me if I keep pushing in the toughest moments.
All in all, I am so glad I participated in WOOLF. It makes me happy to run into my group mates around campus and we are excited to remain in touch and attend one another's games, performances, and events.
Going on this trip offered me a reminder of my persistence and ability to climb any mountain I set my mind on.